By: Kate Luce
Just outside of Memorial Stadium in Bloomington, IN stands Dora Natella’s recent sculpture settled into its new home. Natella, sculpture professor, spent the past two years full-time, creating The Spirit of Indiana, and despite the pandemic, provides a centerpiece for sports-goers and students alike.
The Spirit of Indiana features five athletes, huddling together for a group high-five. Each figure is about 8 feet tall. With the raised arm included, they reach just about 10 feet 5 inches. In total, the solid bronze sculpture weighs almost 5,000 pounds. It’s located on the Miller Plaza of Memorial Stadium.
The sculpture’s name reflects IU’s 1925 slogan, “The Spirit of Indiana,” which means team over self. This slogan has followed IU Athletics until 2010 when it was changed to 24 sports, one team. Throughout the creation of this sculpture and in 2020 in particular, this theme resonated with Natella in particular.
“This piece is about the energy and empowerment that comes from teamwork. Teamwork is the only way forward, just like we heard that over and over. In that way, it is a very life-giving and positive message that has to do with the younger generation,” Natella said.
Natella was tasked to do this project after President Michael McRobbie visited IU South Bend a few years ago. During his tour, he was impressed by Natella’s sculptures that reside on campus and knew she would be fit for the task ahead.
With a donation of $48 million from Pat and Michael Miller, the Miller Plaza was created at Memorial Stadium and a sculpture was wanted for the space, originally, a large, abstract sculpture was to be homed in the space, but after a committee’s decision, a more figurative piece would better suit the stadium and the atmosphere.
Once contracted and the process began, Natella was not supposed to tell anyone about the process, in order to make the final result a surprise celebration of the monument. The planning phase of the sculpture lasted almost a year.
To start off the process, Natella recruited models, using a few athletes from Bloomington’s campus, a graduate of IU, a former IU South Bend athlete and a local baseball player from Michigan. While she had two people from the area, Natella had to rely solely on photos taken of the other athletes.
“You wouldn’t believe this, but there are legal issues when it comes to using their image, using an athlete for commercial purposes. For one of them, I had to go through that, and all of them had to sign a release for IU,” Natella said.
Once the athletes were recruited and thousands of photos of them were taken, Natella began working on one figure at scale in South Bend. While Natella has done this in the past, working on five life-sized figures in the span of a few months was strenuous. If she did not work large, there could be more room for error once each sculpture was scaled up.
Thankfully, Natella had two former students enacting as assistants throughout this process. However, most of the days, Natella spent almost 12 hours in the warehouse working on the figures, getting intricate details of the hands and faces of each model.
She worked fast, spending no more than for weeks on each sculpture. She also had to work on the figures separately because the model’s schedules did not work out to pose together. Aesthetically, she worried how her figures would stand together, but also if structurally, the sculpture would be stable.
“The engineers call the shots. It’s a liability, and you are just an artist. When I was working on photographing, I was thinking about this. As a sculptor, I tend to think about how weight is going to balance,” Natella said.
The process from the clay prototypes to the full-scale bronze statues was complicated. As soon as she finished the clay prototype, mold makers for New York came out and cast the sculpture. They traveled back to the New York Factory and were enlarged and digitally milled in polyurethane.
Milling is similar to 3-D printing. However, instead of adding material, the process carves out what was needed. After the polyurethane replicas were sent back to Natella, she made adjustments to the pieces and sent them to a foundry. That foundry would make the final product: a solid bronze sculpture.
“My favorite foundry was in New York, but the university ended up choosing a smaller foundry in Arizona. The first foundry had to shut down because of the pandemic. Bollinger in Arizona, the pandemic didn’t get there right away. Eventually, the pandemic got there too, but they didn’t get shut down because there were not that many workers,” Natella said.
The foundry did not specialize entirely in figurative work. With it also being in Arizona, the wax molds had some distortion to them, but Natella sent the original sculptures to the foundry and even made two trips to Arizona to make sure the sculptures were right.
“That is how committed I am to this. This is the pinnacle of my career, where I have been striving to leave a mark and leave a sculpture that was iconic, a landmark, something I could leave behind. I came to America with a dream. I had my dream, coming from Italy to this land when I was 22. My dream was to make it as an artist. I have gotten a lot of kicking out of life, left and right, just like everyone else, but I pulled myself up by the bootstraps, and I kept going,” Natella said.
Her dream of leaving a legacy of work behind has been set in motion throughout the world. The Spirit of Indiana will bring her work to generations and generations in the future, setting to extend her legacy in the state she has called home for the past few decades.
To view more of Natella’s work and The Spirit of Indiana, visit https://doranatella.com/